Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday slowdown

A beautiful old hymn by Adelaide Pollard, "Have Thine Own Way" expresses such beautiful thoughts . . . I truly want to be molded and made according to His will, and to have Christ only (and always) seen in me. I tested several videos before I chose this one; so many were recorded in a sing-song kind of way and did not seem to have the reverence that I feel the author had in mind. The video below is the more prayerful way of singing that I was looking for. As we end our "Anger Management 101" study, it's my hope that we all will strive to be more like our Savior.

Hope this will bless all who pause here to read the words and hear the song. 

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me
After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
Yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Search me and try me,
Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord,
Wash me just now,
As in Thy presence
Humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Wounded and weary,
Help me, I pray.
Power, all power,
Surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me,
Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Hold o'er my being
Absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit
Till all shall see
Christ only, always,
Living in me.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Anger management 101, conclusion

"When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear."   Mark Twain


"When angry, count to ten. If very angry, count to one hundred." Thomas Jefferson

Yep, that's it.

Yesterday, we saw that one way to handle anger and defuse a situation was to get rid of it quickly; to reconcile with the person that made us mad. 
Another way is to BE the solution to the problem that made us angry in the first place. 
What's that mean?
Sometimes when we see a problem or an injustice, we do get angry about it. Perhaps the next time that happens, rather than stewing about it, as my grandma used to say, we should DO something about the problem. 
There is much to be angry at in this world. One of the biggest problems, though, is that right now people get angry at what they are seeing, and then they lash out in anger at others -- all that does is create more anger! Sometimes anger is a waste of energy that ought to be used; if something upsets us or we feel change is needed, what are we DOING about it? How much time have we actually spent in combating this?
If we feel we are doing something about it, take a moment to step back and assess our own efforts objectively -- many people today feel quite proud and accomplished -- many feel they have truly done something about an issue, when all they have done is walk in a march or chant slogans. These same people may or may not be willing to take the time to actually work at a solution. To work collaboratively with others to solve a problem with calmness, reasoned words, and brainstorming to find ways to improve things. Then be part of implementing the solution. It's a lot of work, and that is one reason why some are not interested.
There is a quote from C. S. Lewis that is very apt in our world of marches, protests, and violence today. "Anger is the anesthetic of the mind." Sometimes we are angry and unable to think; rather than trying to form a solution to what made us angry, the only thing our minds can focus on is the anger.
Sound familiar as we watch the news?
This is not the best way.
Anger can be a catalyst for good, but it's not an end in itself. It can only be good if we get rid of it quickly and then channel that energy into fixing the problem that made us angry. 
Are we angry at someONE? Let's sit down and pray with them, and then talk things through. If our problems are deep, we may need to brainstorm ways to work through them; some people find counseling valuable and others find benefit in Bible study together. Still others find that their problems are more easily "fixed" when the two people work together in a volunteer group to help others. Find a way!
Are we angry at someTHING? Again, our first step is prayer, and then explore ways to be a part of the solution. Channel the energy of the anger you have put aside, and get involved; get creative; get to work! Whether supporting change with our finances or our physical presence, we can be a part of making a problem smaller or making it go away. (Personal note of advice: always check out any group that you will be assisting -- utilize their web site or their social media pages. Be careful before you give or speak out for an organization, to make certain of their aims. One group that has been in the news a great deal lately is purported to simply be working for racial equality. That's an admirable goal, and respect for all should be foundational in believers' lives. A search of the group's manifesto, however, reveals that they also desire to disrupt the nuclear family, as well as abolish democracy and law enforcement. Be careful.)
So, we can see that Paul is telling us to deal with our anger quickly, and then let our energy spur us into action. Finally, in verse 27, Paul says "don't give place to the devil."  If we allow anger to go unchecked, it becomes a sinful condition and an open door for the devil. 
When anger isn't dealt with and put aside, it festers and builds up. It gets bigger and keeps growing until it breaks loose and spills over onto someone else. Satan loves to take a good thing and twist it.  He will take something that might not initially be sinful and tie a knot in it and make it sinful. For example, he takes the love in a human heart and turns it into lust. He takes a healthy work ethic and turns it into greed and neglect of family. He takes personal happiness and twists it into selfishness and conceit. If we don't deal with our anger, it gives the devil a "foothold" in our lives. 
What does that mean?
Paul is referring, as he did so often, to a physical activity or a fighting analogy to make his point. The word "foothold" may make more sense to us in our world today when we think of the folks who enjoy climbing. Some are avid nature enthusiasts and seek steep rock faces and mountainsides where they can challenge themselves to reach the top. Others enjoy the indoor variety of climbing, where rock walls are set up to challenge their skills. In each of these, it's important not just to place their hands carefully, so that they can continue upward without falling, but it's also important to make careful placement of their feet -- sometimes they appear to have only their toes securely lodged in a tiny hole or crevice. But that tiny foothold is all they need to keep moving upward to the summit.
In the same way, sometimes a tiny foothold is all the devil needs to get a start on our lives. It helps him to keep going. To get a handle on us, grab hold, and not let go. We can't afford to give him a foothold to work with!  And that is what refusing to control our anger does . . . 
Letting our anger build and grow causes way more damage in the long run. That's why it's so important to quickly get rid of our anger and be part of a solution for what made us angry.

Some practical applications for us today? 
First, admit that we have a problem dealing with anger on our own, and ask God for help. Confessing this to God and praying for His strength is the best start.
Secondly, when anger begins to develop, if it is at all possible, simply walk away. When we are confronted with a person or a situation in which we know we will become angry, literally put one foot in front of the other and leave. If we do this, we may be embarrassed; we may be criticized; but we will not have given the devil a foothold.
Thirdly, we need to realize that sometimes anger gets the upper hand. We are not perfect yet, and so sometimes we lose control and lash out in anger before we even realize what we are doing. If we lash out in anger, the thing to do is to go to the person and ask for their forgiveness, then do the same thing with God. 
Finally, the best way to get rid of anger is simply to convert it to love. And yes, I know just how difficult that will be in some situations! From personal experience! But look at Paul's description of the Spirit-filled life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Did you see anger in there anywhere? I didn't, either!
In fact, the traits listed were the opposite of anger. There simply is no justification in our lives as followers of Jesus to tolerate anger's continued presence. Righteous anger at what God is angry at? Yep. But we must put it aside quickly and not allow the devil to use it to gain a foothold in our lives. ANd then pray that God will fill us afresh with His Spirit, pushing out the sinful thoughts and filling us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It's Anger Management 101. 
And it's God's way to handle anger.

Lord, please show me when I am walking dangerously close to sin and allowing the devil to use my anger to gain a foothold. Fill me with your love, instead!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Don't get out of control!

The little emoticon up there looks like some of us look when we are angry, no? We scowl and get red in the face. And then it's just as if a steam valve opens up, right? Because we feel like we will explode if we don't express what we feel! Nowadays, people call it "ranting" or "venting." But like we said yesterday, if anger gets out of control, we will fall into sin.

Sin resulting from anger is devastating. So much so, that Jesus equated anger with murder in one of his teachings.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5:21-22)
Some of the rabbis and teachers of the day were saying that yes, it's terrible sin to murder someone, but it's okey dokey to be angry at them. Jesus here is saying in effect, not so fast! God looks at the heart -- and anger is the attitude behind murder. Use that Aramaic term of contempt, and you are showing that attitude of anger.  Anger, if you follow it out, leads to murder. So when you are angry at someone, in God's eyes it is like murder.
Now, they got all bent out of shape about these "radical" concepts, but let's think about them . . . we all know our own hearts, right? Can we just take a moment and think about the last time we were selfishly angry at someone -- didn't we begin to have negative thoughts about them? At the very least, we probably wished we would not have to see them or talk to them anymore. We may have indulged in some thoughts of their moving out of town. Or maybe we said negative things about them to someone else. If we are really mad, filled with that sinful, selfish anger, we might secretly hope that something happens to them "to serve them right;" maybe they get in trouble at work, or even lose their job; maybe they are ill or in a car accident. 
Oy vey. 
Say it ain't so . . . 
Out of anger, we are wishing harm on another person. And murder is the ultimate form of wishing harm on them. That is what our Savior was saying there -- and if we are honest with ourselves, we know it's true. It may have been a long time since that happened. But don't get smug! We can fall into the trap any time!

It's easy, too, to let go of our self-control when we are angry -- this can lead to disastrous results! Many people don't really understand this. We may know someone, or maybe it's us, who has a problem with anger. Do we think it's best to just blow up and be done with it? That way we get over it quickly?  Well, a cannon does the same thing -- it blows up and gets quiet again pretty quickly.  But there's a lot of damage left behind!
In years past, we were told not to "hold it in," but to let it out. Go with your emotions. Put it out there. Just let go. But did you know that psychologists are now saying that it's not a good idea? That researchers are finding the freely venting our anger corrodes relationships as surely as when battery acid gets on our coveralls. (Grin)  Venting actually breeds more anger, not less! Now, isn't that interesting? Seems like our Bible says something about that, if they'd just take the time to read it . . . .
Fools give full vent to their rage,
    but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)
A recent study was quoted as finding that when we are in an argument with someone, the tone and anger that usually develops from an argument is kept to a minimum if just one of the two people consistently maintains a calm tone of voice. Let's put it this way: if one of the people remains in control, both people remain more calm. Hmmmmmmm. Haven't we heard that before, too?
Psssssssssssssstttt! Hey researchers! Check this out!
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Since we've found such good advice on arguments, let's see if we can find some instructions on how to keep our anger from becoming sinful. 
Let's go back to our ole buddy Paul . . . 
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Seems like Paul is telling us to get rid of our anger. Quickly. I believe that is what he is saying when he tells us, "don't let the sun go down while you are still angry," or in another translation, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath." Now, if we took him literally, this time of year I guess we have lots more time to argue, fume, and fuss . . . after all, we just had our longest day of the year about a week or so ago. (Grin)  In the winter, if we take him literally, we have far fewer hours to be working through our disagreements - the sun goes down much earlier!
What, then, is he really saying? I think he is pointing to the principle that it's good to try to get rid of our anger as soon as possible. No holding a grudge. No brooding about what someone else said. So, I guess that getting rid of it by the time we go to bed is a good rule of thumb!

I do want to make one thing clear, though. Paul is not saying that we can allow our anger to spill over onto someone else as long as we take care of it by nightfall. He's not saying "here's your carte blanche; you can blow up and vent now. Just get it all out before bedtime." When we vent our anger there are consequences. When we rage at someone, so much damage can be done . . . if we lose control and allow our anger to explode, people usually get hurt. If a husband or a wife blows up and says harsh things, the injured spouse can find it difficult to fully trust again. An apology can clear the air, but it can't take back the words ringing in the spouse's ears. If a parent vents their frustration at a child, there's no telling whether or not that child will internalize and believe those words of anger. It can change a life. 

Paul's advice here is to be angry, but don't sin. By getting rid of our anger as quickly as possible. Remember the old game of hot potato? Well, anger is indeed a hot potato! Toss it away quickly! Instead of blowing up, it's better to go to the person with whom we are angry. Make a pact to speak in whispers if need be. (Grin)  Admit where we are wrong. Try to understand the other person's point of view. Be the first to offer forgiveness. And to ask for forgiveness. 

Yeah. I know.
This is all easier said than done.
Sometimes we just have to wade through it like fording a rising creek. Some couples (and some parents and kids, too) have put in place rules of engagement! No name calling, don't use the words "always" or "never." Don't bring up the past, but stick to the problem of today's argument. No interrupting, and take turns listening -- to do this, make it a rule that only one person speaks at a time. Some families have a "wand" or "power stick" that gets passed around. Only the person holding the wand can talk!

To make our long story short, if we want to keep from sinning when we are angry, the first thing to do is to make sure we don't prolong it: be reconciled to the person with whom we are angry.

We'll continue these thoughts tomorrow......

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Be angry - sin not

Sooooooo, we need to be very careful when we are righteously angry at sin. We aren't God, and righteous anger is a bit difficult to identify!
After all, there are not very many times when, in the heat of a moment, we can step back and say, "Oh, you know what? I'm not being fair, here. I am unjustly angry."  
As humans, we can ALWAYS justify our anger. We always feel that our anger is in response to someone else's sin. Of COURSE we are showing righteous anger!
Well, think about it . . . have we ever been angry when we didn't think we had a right to be? I suppose it could happen sometimes, but usually, we are mad at someone or something because we feel we are standing up for the right. We think we are on the side of justice.
And yet . . . . 
Some of the most horrible things Christians have ever done were done in the name of righteous anger. Most human anger (even if it starts out correctly) is sinful and is very destructive. James said that we don't accomplish the righteousness of God:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
And Paul says to "give place" for God's wrath:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

Paul is quoting from both Deuteronomy and the Proverbs here. In other words, the Bible is warning us that anger is extremely hard to handle; it's best to leave anger, vengeance, and retaliation to God. 
What do we do instead? 
Oh, here is the tough part!
Rather than love our enemies, our Savior told us to love them! 
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)
When it comes to anger, it's best to leave things up to God. And yet, Paul does speak realistically here......he says, "Sure, you are going to get angry, but....."  what does he say next? Make sure we don't allow it to turn into sin.
In all the times I have read that passage, I don't think I paid very much attention to the scripture that Paul was quoting from! He's emphasizing his point by quoting from Psalm 4:4:
Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah (Psalm 4:4)
Psalms 3 and 4 were written by David at a time when he had every right to be righteously angry!!
David's kingdom had been unjustly taken from him. His own son, Absalom, had lied and tricked a whole lot of people; many of them had rebelled against the king and followed Absalom. In the rebellion, David fled for his life! In addition to rummaging around in the palace and trying on the crown and throne, Absalom also tried on the harem -- he set up a tent on the roof of the palace and had sex with all of David's concubines in the sight of all of the city. (II Samuel 15-16)

Absalom was a wicked man doing wicked things -- it moved David's heart to anger. That's why he wrote that verse, "Be angry and do not sin." 
And David didn't sin.
If you read in II Samuel, he acted kindly and behaved justly; he even tried to spare the life of his wicked, treasonous son! All of his actions were kind and loving.  He was righteously angry, yes, but he continued to act in love, and did not sin.
If you recall the story, in the heat of battle Absalom's long, flowing locks got caught in a tree and he was killed by one of David's loyal commanders. But David was even upset at this -- he didn't want his son to die; he wanted to forgive and love him.

This story that Paul reminded us of is a positive example. David was angry, but he kept his anger from turning into sin. Our Bible is the best book ever, though, and is 
 ......useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (II Timothy 3:16b)
Along with David's positive example, the Bible shows us negative examples, too. Where other people allowed their anger to become sinful.
Remember the scene where Jacob lies and deceives his dad and steals his older brother's birthright? Esau was certainly angry about being cheated. I expect that we could say his initial reaction was righteous anger -- but his anger led him into sin when he vowed to kill his cheating brother.
Jonah the prophet was righteously angry about the terrible sins of the people of Nineveh. But he let his anger get the upper hand -- he failed to preach the whole message that God had given him to tell the sinful Ninevites. Jonah was spiteful and got comfortable so he could watch the fireworks as God punished the people. But lo and behold, the fireworks never happened. Then Jonah got mad at God, too! 
No wonder that Paul is exhorting us to "be angry but sin not"! Anger can so easily burn out of control, and when it does, we fall into sin.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Anger management 101

Two weeks ago, we were studying Nehemiah's response to the evil that piled up like a load of dirty laundry whilst he was back in Persia . . . 
At the time, we noted that there's a big difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. I really dug into this and thought it would be a good discussion topic for this week.
Let's dive in!

Sometimes it's the little things . . . .
I've told you before that I'm a big fan of C. S. Lewis -- in The Screwtape Letters, a demon by the name of Screwtape is advising his nephew (a demon-in-training, I guess we could say) on how to be more successful in the task of tempting and influencing humans entrusted to his "care."
In one missive that is particularly enlightening, Screwtape advises Wormwood that in order to keep his human safely on the path to hell, it's best to focus on tempting him to do "little" sins instead of the "big" ones like murder. The things which seem innocent. Insignificant.
He tells Wormwood, "....the safest road to Hell is the gradual one...."
One of our focus passages for this study on anger is in the fourth chapter of Ephesians; it's snuggled into some other verses that Paul calmly lays out as a primer on good behavior and a good testimony. 
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
None of the rest in the list seem to be what we would call "big" sins. They all seem to be the small and less important garden variety. But that is where we can be deceived, just as Screwtape says. Take for instance, lying -- Satan is the father of lies, and he and his minions have deceived people for years, so that they think "little lies don't matter." Else why would these phrases be so well-used in our language? Little white lies. Half-truths. Bending the truth. Twisting the facts. But the reality is that all of these lead us to larger and larger lies and away from our Father God, the source of truth!
So as we look at the rest of the list, no "biggies" jump out at us, right? Don't kill anybody. Don't commit adultery. They are not there! But all of these other sins were important in Paul's mind and he stressed them.
Let's dig a little deeper . . . .
Paul starts verse 26 by saying, "Be angry." What? Is Paul telling us to sin?
We are back at our original premise: there are two kinds of anger. The first is righteous anger directed toward sin and evil in our world today. It's the kind of anger that God has. Many times in the Bible, we see verses that speak of the wrath of God.
So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:3)
Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. (Deuteronomy 6:14-15)
So put on sackcloth,
    lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the Lord
    has not turned away from us. (Jeremiah 4:8)
Two weeks ago, we also mentioned the anger of Jesus when He cleared out the temple. He was filled with fury at what the religious leaders were doing in God's temple. He was also angry at the Pharisees and other who sought to accuse Him:
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” (Mark 3:5a)
So, being angry at the damage and destruction caused by sin is natural and normal for believers. The danger comes, as we briefly discussed two weeks ago, when we humans try to have righteous anger. We are sinful and selfish, and we also don't see everything and know everything the way our Father does! So for us, even though we may start out with righteous anger, it is extremely easy to slide into sinful anger. It's that sinful anger that Paul is warning us away from. 

I think one of the most graphic examples of this in the Bible is an incident in the life of Moses. It shows us in stark contrast the two faces of anger.
Moses was one of the most righteous and humble men ever -- but he allowed righteous anger to degenerate into sin. We all know the story . . . he led the Israelites out of Egypt, across the dry bed of the Red Sea, and onward to the foot of Mount Sinai. Then they went right up to the border of the Promised Land. They could have entered then, but the people doubted that the Lord God could provide for and protect them, so instead, they wandered about in the desolate wilderness for forty years! 
If you were Moses (you'd have been eighty years old at the time) wouldn't you have been frustrated at these stubborn, rebellious people? These people are ungrateful! I'm eighty years old and I want a rest! I don't want to march about in the desert for forty years! 
But our buddy Moses took it in stride. Over the next forty years, there would be times that the Israelites would again show a lack of faith, or stray from God's teachings, and there he'd be, interceding for them. 
But then, right before they entered the Promised Land, Moses hit his limit. In the twentieth chapter of Numbers, we can see the Israelites complaining (again) about the lack of water. So, God told Moses to speak to a rock nearby for water to come out of it. 
Moses was by now righteously angry with the Israelites, and he let his anger get the best of him. He spoke harshly to the Israelites (they did deserve it), but then in anger he struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it as God had told him.
The water did flow. And the people did stop their murmuring (for a while).
But the consequence of letting his anger get the best of him? For allowing his righteous anger to become sinful anger? Moses wasn't allowed to enter into the Promised Land when the glad day finally arrived.
Anger, when it gets away from us, exacts a terrible price.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Week of praise - Day 5

Counting our blessings starts our hearts to singing!

This old hymn does a great job of reminding us of all of those wonderful gifts that God has given us. 

Prayerfully consider these lyrics as the video reminds us of the lovely tune . . .

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For each perfect gift of thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of heaven,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For thy church which evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

Thursday, June 25, 2020